Soup for You!

The Soup Peddler (study) | 12 x 9” | Oil on Canvas Paper

I’m learning a lot more lately en plein air, painting outside essentially. In 2023 I intend to get in at least 30 days outside – I’ll keep track and post updates against that goal… more to hold myself accountable, but perhaps it will entertain all of you as well. 

There is a great artist group in Austin called Plein Air Austin (, which organizes multiple outings monthly for members – non members are encouraged to come join us to see what it’s all about, too. This particular outing was what we call “Urban”, where we get together in an area of town that has great architecture and buildings, as opposed to nature-based landscapes, and try to capture the scene. This particular outing was on South 1st near Mary Street, which has plenty to work with in terms of urban scenes. I tagged along with one of the other artists who had scoped out these great blue green umbrellas at a restaurant called The Soup Peddler. 

The weather was ideal, a little chill in the air, but the clouds cleared out around 10 and gave us plenty of sunlight. It was tricky to simplify this scene, an ongoing challenge for me with plein air compositions, so I tried focusing on the umbrellas first and building the painting outward. Having just painted umbrellas in a recent studio piece, I was able to quickly get the bones of this piece on the canvas before the lighting changed. Luckily the lighting was steadily improving all morning, so I never panicked due to major shifts in value. 

In terms of compositional challenges, I got most of it worked out in the field because I was happy with the umbrellas themselves. I also got very lucky in getting the structure of the building, sign, and patio details on the first try. Sometimes those architectural details trick me and I have to make a few attempts to get it right, or at least avoid having it tank the painting before it even begins. The updates I made in the studio were pretty straight forward, building on what I had already started, but I did leverage some artistic license. Most notably I opted to exclude the cactus coming out of the metal planter, in large part because it was nearly the same color as the umbrellas, and even a deviation from the coloring would have been a distraction. And while I don’t love the final look of the metal planter it serves as a good balance for the composition. Maybe I’ll add some other plants in the future, but for now I’m calling it done. 

Thanks for reading! 

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #bernabplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #atxlife #bullcreekaustin #pleinairaustin #souppeddler #souppeddleraustin

Fishing for Edward Hopper

Fishing Shacks | 7 x 5” | Oil on Board

These fishing shacks are located, appropriately, on Fishermans Point in South Portland, Maine. Anytime of day is wonderful to visit the point to soak in the sea breeze, watch the activity in the bay, or simply smile at the beautiful landscape. While this spot has intrinsic beauty and plenty of subject matter for painting, these fishing shacks jutting over the water are inescapably paintable. This is one of what’s sure to be multiple compositions I do at this location. 

This was a particularly challenging piece due to the weather. In the photos you can’t see the wind, but trust me it was whipping around like a petulant child, something that wasn’t typical for this location. Despite the wind, it proved to be a stunning afternoon for late day sun, which lit up the shacks in that special way that only the sun can do. 

I definitely called on my inner Edward Hopper for this piece. My wife also influenced the outcome, noting a need for color so it wouldn’t be so blah with all the gray wood. Pushing the contrasts was easier than expected, in large part because the magic of plein air really helps with getting the light right.

Thanks for reading!

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #cascobay #portlandmaine #landscapesmaine #pleinair #maineart  #portlandmaineart  #southportland #seadogs #smccmaine #southportlandmaine

Stop With All the White Boats!

Casco Bay Boats (study) | 7 x 5” | oil on Canvas Board

The weather and views were so fantastic, frankly I didn’t care how this plein air piece turned out. The vantage point was from a hillside trail in the shade looking out across Casco Bay. I had originally setup along the water, but had to move due to the rantings of a homeless guy who felt me and another guy nearby had infringed on his oceanfront property.

The boats were tricky to paint because the scale was so small – this was the first time I’d painted a seascape with various boats on a small canvas. I realized I had to pay more attention to giving the impression of details with singular brush strokes, almost dots in some places. The other challenge with boats, maybe it’s just in this particular bay, but the vast majority of them are white, the entire boat, not just the sails.

Overall this was a successful study and I’m looking forward to future compositions, both in plein air and studio refinements. There are also some great hues to work with in the sky, water, and the backdrop of green forests and islands. What’s not to like?

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #cascobay #portlandmaine #landscapesmaine #pleinair #maineart #sailing

Coastal Plein Air

I’ve been traveling a bit this summer and managed to get in some plein air work! At first it was mostly drawings of coastal scenes – lots and lots of boats and beautiful coastline. But lately I’ve managed to get in some solid time with the paints and I’m working a few pieces in parallel.

I still need to return to a few of the plein air locations before I can finish with studio refinement. One basic change I’ve tried with the recent plein air compositions is essentially simplifying the focal areas and zooming in so there’s less to tackle. That’s been hard for me because I typically want to capture as much of the landscape view as possible in any given composition because it’s so damn beautiful.

Next projects will be some very photogenic coastal lighthouses. I’ve done a few practice sketches to get a feel for how I want to approach the works and not self-inflict panic during the speedy reality of painting on site. What’s really apparent, at least in my drawings, is that the lighthouse is going to be a piece of cake – it’s the rocky seaside that might well drive me insane. But I believe if I keep it “fast and loose” and focus on the lighthouse, the rocks will be simplified in a supporting role.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post a couple of completed pieces in the coming week.

Fighting the Heat at Bull Creek

Bull Creek | 8 x 10” | Oil on Canvas Board

I might have chosen the wrong year to ramp up my en plein air experience, case in point the month of May in Austin is already registering 100 degree days. Ugh! Regardless, the mornings are bearable and I had to break in a new pochade box called u.go. by New Wave Art… more on that later.

This session was at Bull Creek Park with a few other painters from Plein Air Austin. For those of you familiar with Austin, this is the northern stretch of Bull Creek near the Spicewood and 360 intersection. For the uninitiated, it’s ideal for painting outside because there’s usually some good water options along the creek and lots of shade. 

The focal point of this composition was the rocks in both the foreground where the shade and light merge, and secondarily the larger rock bathed in sunlight. I was very happy with how this turned out even before I got back into the studio for refinements. I went into this plein air session committed to focusing on values, starting by driving the darks into darkness-of-a-bat-loving-cave kinda dark, then finding high contrast opportunities for the lightest lights. I took some artistic license in this area, fabricating some water movement that wasn’t there, but it made for a more compelling viewing experience in my opinion. 

Additionally I muted the trees on the banks, especially the left side, so as to ensure they didn’t distract from the main focal points in the water. I had initially used much lighter, saturated yellow/greens on the trees, but that muted all the lighter values in the composition, which absolutely killed the scene. I’m pretty sure this is what I’ve done in past plein air sessions that has confounded me. I’ll keep my fingers crossed this will carry over into the next outing. 

The use of olive green variations on the shadow parts of the distant water were also a change in approach. One of my fellow painters made this suggestion and it proved to work really well. 
Painting outside is fantastic! This particular outing was of note because I got to share ideas and chat with the other painters. We even treated it like a workshop and did a mini critique of our works at the end of the morning. This was particularly interesting because of the 4 painters, there were 3 different mediums represented – oil, water color, and gouache. 

Lastly, my new u.go proved to be a great upgrade to my plein air armaments. Thank you to my awesome wife for giving me the perfect artist gift! The best part about the u.go is the portability. The length and width dimensions are almost identical to my EasyL pochade box, but it’s very thin, so it fits much easier in my pack. Very sturdy and compact design make it a must have piece of equipment for me.

Thanks for reading!

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #bernabplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #atxlife #bullcreekaustin #pleinairaustin #saveourspringsaustin #sosalliance

Flat as a Cat’s Tail in a Room of Rockers

3 Pots | 9 x 12” | Oil on Paper

A composition comes around sometimes and slaps you in the face, a hard reminder that you don’t know jack squat about painting. In this case, 3 Pots told me I need to work harder on my plein air compositions, starting with the basics. There’s something addictive about plein air painting, even on the bad days that seem like you can’t get anything right.

This plein air session was at a workshop in Austin with Laurel Daniel, an exceptional artist and talented instructor. We were at Jennifer’s Gardens in central Austin and during the afternoon session I focused on 3 pots that were sitting on some terra cotta steps. They were in the shade, error #1. The green plant was in a green pot and the blue plant was in a blue pot, error #2. I decided to paint them anyway, error #3. 

Despite the challenges in the field, one thing I did get right and was pretty excited about, was the initial block in. I was able to quickly get all 3 pots laid in properly and to scale without issue, something a few years ago I would have needed a few sessions to get right. Then everything went flat. 

Chronic Muted / Flat Plein Air Work

For the life of me I couldn’t get enough value contrast going, as if I was actually ignoring that basic design tenet. I really noticed in when I returned to the studio a few days later and was frankly amazed at the mono-value of the entire composition. There was also no getting around the design error of green pot on green plant and blue pot on blue plant. 

I considered throwing it in the bin, but opted to spend a dedicated 2 hours, and not a minute more, to see how I could fix the core elements. The first step was to really push the darks throughout, which I would find later was the crux of the issue. I need to really recognize what “dark” looks like in outdoor lighting – more practice should remedy this issue. The next step of the fix was to blast the contrast in values next to the darkest darks with the brightest, most saturated hues. While I ended up painting over some of these areas later, the establishment of what the value range should entail was very helpful. Remember, error #1 was shitty composition selection, everything shaded and no lighting contrasts. 

The remainder of the rework was trying to establish nuanced color differences between the artificial color of the pots and the “same” natural colors of the plants. This part was surprisingly interesting, something I’d never done before, but it proved a valuable learning experience that I know will come in handy with urban landscapes in the future. 

I have another “flat” plein air piece to fix, but likely won’t have the patience to tackle it for a few weeks, but I will do a side by side comparison with 3 Pots when it’s done so we can see if I learned anything… or if I’m just a hopeless idiot sometimes. 

Thanks for reading!

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #atxartist #atxart #atxlife #jennifersgardens #laureldaniel #pleinairaustin 

Channelling Artistic Hate

Mirror Pond, Austin TX | 6 x 8” | Oil on Linen Board

Taking in more of the great Spring weather, I headed out to do some more plein air. This session was at a place called Mirror Pond in Austin, very close to Lady Bird Lake and part of the Zilker Nature Preserve, which was the first nature preserve created in Austin back in 1935 (learn more at No dogs allowed, so my canine assistant, Zip, could not join me today to keep the pesky squirrels away. 

Mirror Pond is gorgeous and tranquil when it has water, but I was pretty sure today it would be dry, which it was. What I wasn’t expecting was such a pretty site despite the lack of water. I probably wouldn’t have noticed half of the cool geological formations had there been a pond to ogle over. 

For those of you not familiar with plein air painting, one of the challenges is finding subjects that you can paint quickly and not get scuttled by the fast moving sun and shadows. I’ve included a gallery of photos below that show this effect and why it’s important to a) move fast, and b) take lots of photos early so you have something to work from in the studio to finish the work.

This composition started out as nothing more than a “get out there and paint” goal, but once I got the piece back in the studio and began fiddling around with some compositional ideas, it sucked me in for hours! 

I was asking myself “why the hell am I painting a cedar tree again?” As noted in previous posts, I hate cedar trees for many reasons, but it seems that I can channel that fury-based energy into artistic currency. In this particular case, I pivoted my initial focal point from the sideway limestone arch to the interestingly shaped cedar tree above it.

The first thing that caught my attention was the cool shape of the cedar tree; it’s actually the inverted shape of the limestone arch upon which it sits. See it? It’s not perfect, but close enough to draw my interest. Secondly, I used some artistic license to accent the red (representing my burning hatred of these trees) of the cedar limbs to make the entirety of the greens pop. It also had the unintended side effect of increasing the value contrast against all the other greens in this composition. 

Painting Mirror Pond has also reminded me that the craft of plein air is often about making a mediocre landscape come to life. Not sure if I managed to pull it off this time, but I learned a lot along the way.

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #pleinairaustin #cedarallergies #austinparksfoundation #zilkernaturepreserve #atxartist #atxart #atxlife

Attack of the Cedars!

Cedar Season | 5 x 7” | Oil on Canvas Board

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #pleinairaustin #cedarallergies #HOL #bartonsprings

Cedar Season is my second plein air session of the year… I’m falling behind and need to get outside more often as Spring is upon us. However, to my credit, it’s not easy going into the field in Austin in January and February because cedar allergies are at peak. But last month I doubled up on the Claritin and headed into the woods along the Hill of Life and Barton Springs Greenbelt.

I brought my trusty painting sidekick, Zip, to help keep an eye out for any suspicious squirrel activity. Actually, I should say she’s my aspiring painting sidekick, of which this session was an initial interview. The real question was to see if she could manage 2-3 hours of watching me paint, or otherwise occupy herself without wandering around wreaking havoc with her 12 ft leash. 

Let’s be clear – I hate Texas cedar trees. They account for all of my sinus headaches in January and February, and anywhere they grow, they take over the landscape. Supposedly they’re not an invasive species, but last time I checked “invasive” was defined as “(especially of plants or a disease) tending to spread prolifically and undesirably or harmfully.” So, like I said, they’re invasive. 

Why did I opt for a painting of cedars? Well, it turns out they create a very pretty landscape when you’re buried in a forest trail of the damned things. I also wanted to tackle the challenge of all the greens, trunks, and cast shadows.

A few compositional decisions that seemed to work well. First, the cedar trunks are a brownish red color, so I used a heavy dose of Alizarin Crimson to accent the focal areas of the larger trees; I believe that mix also has some Indian Red, too. The second decision was to make the cast shadows very dark, which works well (at least I think so… what about you?) in creating more contrasts and a sense of tree coverage. 

In terms of the sidekick interview, Zip got the job! She was very relaxed and entertained by my strange activity, but occasionally treats fell from the sky… so she was content. 

Thanks for reading! 

Breath of Plein Air!

HOL Dam Falls | 7” x 5” | Oil on Canvas Board

One of my 2022 art-related resolutions is to do more plein air work. I’ve managed to log a couple of days in the field near my house to start the year; this is the first of those sessions. 

There is a trailhead in my neighborhood to the Barton Creek Greenbelt called the Hill of Life (HOL). At the bottom of the HOL (about 1/2 mile long and 300′ elevation drop) is Barton Creek, which is the source of these falls, unofficially called the HOL Falls. Over the past few years, however, due to the massive growth in Austin’s population (I’m lookin’ at you California and Florida), endless festival cycle, and general obsession the world seems to have with Austin, this area has been overrun and trashed with douchebags and idiots who are obsessed with Instagram selfies at the swimming holes along the creek. But I digress…

On weekday mornings, however, there is a respite from the obnoxious, disrespectful throngs and I can enjoy the greenbelt as it was intended. On this day I set up along the creek bank about 100 yards downstream from the falls. I made the aesthetic decision to represent a more springtime landscape, namely all the green trees in the background, but the remainder of the scene is accurate. 

It was a gorgeous morning with a very light wind. The sun was a little obscured by high clouds, but there were enough moments when it peeked through that I got a good read on shadows and value contrasts. Plein air session are always entertaining because something unplanned invariably happens – wind blew my trash bag up and onto my paints, tall reeds also brushed against my painting in the breeze a few times (nature’s paintbrush I suppose), and of course I forgot a wet canvas holder so I had to MacGyver a packing solution for the hike home. 

Overall I’m happy with the outcome, but the greens and atmospheric perspective are off. I’d like to get to the point where my plein air has a sense of place like Laurel Daniel, but that’s going to take a lot more practice… which I don’t mind given how fun it is to paint outdoors! 

Thanks for reading!

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #pleinairaustin #hilloflife #HOL #bartonsprings #closetheHOLtrailhead #sosalliance

Sedona Plein Air Workshop – Part 1

Sunrise Trail View, Sedona, AZ | 12” x 9” | Oil on Board

In November, I attended a plein air workshop in Sedona, Arizona, led by Bill Cramer. Bill is a very talented artist based in Prescott, Arizona, so he knows these landscapes very well. His artwork is captivating and a mastery of light and colors – I encourage you to take a look at his work when you get some time.

Our class size was a little large – 10 people – but it was a good mix of friendly artists, the vast majority of who were established professionals with a wide range of styles. Despite having so many students (I consider anything over 6 alot), what you miss out on 1on1 time with the instructor is in many ways made up by observing and chatting with the other artists in the class. This is especially true in plein air workshops because it seems plein air is not a beginner level pursuit of artists, so the attendees tend to be professionals, experienced hobbyists, or overzealous fans of the instructor. Ha! If you’re an artist, you know exactly what I’m talking about. 🙂

The best thing about this workshop was getting to experience this adventure with my mom. She has been painting as a back-up creative outlet to her true love, the piano, but over the years she’s come to appreciate plein air painting, something I’d been talking about for years (despite my lack of actual experience in getting outside to paint on a regular basis). We don’t live in the same state, so painting together is a very rare activity, although we talk about it all the time. To say this was a real treat for me is an understatement… painting side by side, cursing at the same geographical challenges, and experiencing the beautiful offerings of Sedona together was fantastic.

On to the composition, Sunrise Trail View. This piece is a painting in two stages. The first was plein air for a couple of hours in the early morning on location at the Sunrise Trail looking north east. For those of you who know the Sedona area, this is behind the West Sedona Elementary School and Community Pool. I believe the rock formation / mountain is Steamboat Rock, but I’m not 100% sure; maybe someone from Sedona can chime in and clarify.

The second stage was the studio refinement, which wasn’t too extensive for this piece, but it took a few sessions to get it done. One of the trickier parts for me was getting the hang of the technique and strokes to paint the rock formations. It turns out the best approach was to vary brush sizes a little and lay in strokes both horizontal and vertical. My reference photos don’t capture the very rich reds, yellows and oranges of the mountains, so having been on location for a couple days was invaluable in this regard.

Bill Cramer provided some great advice during the workshop and we covered 4 separate locations in the 2 days together. The sites were full of great painting options, plenty of room, and all very different from each other. It didn’t hurt that we had gorgeous weather on both days, so the early starts were worth it.

There are a few other pieces that are partially done from the workshop. I will likely tackle 2 of the 3 in the coming weeks to build on what I’ve learned. Stay tuned!

#berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #sedona #billcramer #pleinair #arizona #painting #abplanalp